KUWAIT CITY – The Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship Osumi arrived at a southern Kuwaiti port Monday to deliver vehicles and other supplies for the Japanese ground troops in Iraq.
The 8,900-ton Osumi, escorted from Japan by the 4,550-ton destroyer Murasame, arrived with supplies including about 70 vehicles, including light armored vehicles, water tankers and trucks, as well as construction material and other equipment for the Ground Self-Defense Force troops.
About 140 members of a 190-member GSDF contingent that arrived in Kuwait on Sunday picked up the supplies. They will travel in the vehicles to their camp in Samawah, Iraq, where about 250 other GSDF members are already deployed.
In his address during a ceremony at the pier, MSDF Capt. Yasuhiro Mukuo said, “We hereby transfer the goods we have transported with all our good will. We hope all of you will return to Japan safely.”
GSDF Col. Eiji Sakashita replied, “The only way we can repay you (for bringing the supplies) is to take the vehicles to Samawah and make our humanitarian aid efforts in Iraq significant.”
The GSDF is in Samawah to help rebuild local infrastructure, purify water and provide medical supplies.
Water tankers donated by the Japanese government to Al-Muthanna Province, where Samawah is located, have begun delivering potable water from local purification plants to villages as far as 50 km from the city.
The arrival of the vessels in Kuwait marked the first time Japan has deployed all three branches of the Self-Defense Forces in an overseas operation since they were established after World War II.
The Air Self-Defense Force has already deployed three C-130 cargo planes and about 200 personnel to a base in Kuwait on a mission to help airlift supplies to Iraq under the command of U.S.-led forces.
On Sunday, Mukuo told reporters aboard the Osumi that crew members were frightened Saturday when a small ship approached their vessel.
“There are various ships here in the Persian Gulf. We are taking care how to identify them amid fears of terrorism,” he said.
The unidentified ship sailed straight for the Osumi’s port side Saturday afternoon, coming within several hundred meters of the Japanese vessel soon after it entered the Persian Gulf, Mukuo and other crew members said.
The small ship changed course after a caution was issued by the Japanese. Crew members said they feared the vessel might have been hostile.
“My legs were shaking,” one crew member said.
Built in 1998 to transport GSDF units for amphibious landing operations, the Osumi is capable of sending tanks and other vehicles ashore with its two air-cushioned landing craft.